From Brent Baker:
“This is a damn outrage,” a disgusted David Brooks, the faux conservative columnist for the New York Times, declared on Sunday’s Meet the Press reacting to Republican Senator Bob Bennett’s loss Saturday at Utah’s Republican convention which chose two others to compete in a June primary for the seat. Brooks fretted he was punished for being “a good conservative who was trying to get things done” by “bravely” working with Democrats on health care and supporting TARP. “Now,” he repeated, “he’s losing his career over that. And it’s just a damn outrage.”
Sitting beside Brooks on NBC’s roundtable, liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr,. a former New York Times correspondent, saw “almost a non-violent coup because they denied the sitting Senator even a chance of getting on the primary ballot.”
ABC’s Jake Tapper brought Rudy Giuliani aboard This Week to address the handling of the Times Square botched bomber, but wouldn’t let him go before bringing up Bennett’s defeat as proof of an intolerant GOP: “Are you worried at all that the Republican Party is not only growing more hostile to more liberal to moderate Republicans such as yourself, but also conservative Republicans who are shown to, at least shown an ability to work with Democrats?”
Later, during the roundtable, George Will answered the presumption Bennett was the victim of an ideological purity test:
This is an anti-Washington year. How do you get more Washington than a three-term Senator who occupies the seat once held by his father, a four-term Senator, who before that worked on the Senate staff and then as a lobbyist in Washington? He’s a wonderful man and a terrific Senator. But the fact is, he’s going against terrific head-winds this year and he cast three votes: TARP, stimulus and an individual mandate for health care. Now, you might like one, two or all three of those, but being opposed to them is not outside the mainstream of American political argument.
Jonah Goldberg, in his latest column, agrees with George Will:
Sen. Robert Bennett, an honorable and sincere politician, was brought down by the rank and file of the Utah Republican Party over the weekend. Bennett, visibly shaken by his loss, seemed as stunned as anybody that he didn’t pass muster with his own party.
He had good reason to be shocked. Bennett is reliably conservative with considerable seniority. He’s also one of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s right-hand men. In every way, he represented the establishment within the GOP. And, ultimately, that’s why he lost.
His gravest sins, according to critics, were his longtime support for a health insurance mandate and his vote for the TARP bailout of the banks.
Inside the Beltway, the shock is even more profound. Most of the news stories describe Bennett as being “ousted” or “kicked out” of the GOP, as if he didn’t lose the contest fair and square. The pundits’ descriptions are even more stark. “A guy like Bob Bennett, who is a right-wing conservative, is being driven out because he’s not sufficiently conservative?” asked an incredulous Juan Wiliams on Fox News. “If I lived in Utah, I’m going to give up Bob Bennett and his seniority and connections?”
On “Meet the Press,” New York Times columnist David Brooks fumed, “This is a damn outrage.” The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne Jr. lamented, “It’s almost a nonviolent coup.” Presumably he meant it was almost a coup, not almost nonviolent. Regardless, it’s a curious way to describe a perfectly peaceful democratic process.
The conventional Beltway interpretation is that Bennett fell victim to the growing right-wing “extremism” of the Republican Party, fueled by those Huns, the “tea partiers.”
It’s certainly plausible that the GOP is tacking too far to the right, but that rightward shift is a natural and healthy response to Washington’s abrupt — and largely unpopular — leftward shift since 2008. In D.C., the coin of the realm is “seniority and connections,” and it is that currency that bought us the calamitous state of the country. Ironically, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama were elected promising to “change the way Washington works.” For the powers that be, the more frightening and tangible lesson from Utah might well be: “This time we mean it.”